The sheer number of Americans listed as missing in action — more than 73,000 in World War II, 7,900 in Korea, hundreds during the Cold War, nearly 2,000 in Vietnam, and even on today's modern battlefields — is difficult to grasp.
Thus, it becomes a major importance when traditionally the third Friday of each September is set aside to honor those who have endured captivity as Prisoners of War or who have been or continue to be listed as Missing in Action. This year's National POW/MIA Recognition observance is September 21.
We at the Veterans Administration's Maryland Health Care System want to take the time to say a special thank you to this group of veterans and pay special tribute to thousands of military families tormented by uncertainty due to the loss of loved ones whose whereabouts remain unknown. The observance on September 21 allows us to honor their role in protecting our country and the liberty of mankind.
Each of their stories is unique. They all share a common thread –– fear, brutality, deprivation, pain and loss. But their stories are also bonded by dignity, honor, character and hope that transcend the extreme and inhumane experiences they survived.
Observances of National POW/MIA Recognition Day are held across the country on military installations, ships at sea, state capitols, schools and veterans' facilities. This observance is one of six days throughout the year that Congress has mandated the flying of the National League of Families' POW/MIA flag. The others are Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day.
While we dedicate ourselves to serving all veterans, we hold a special place in our hearts for those who endured the suffering of captivity, an experience that continues to plague their health for many years afterward.
At the VA Maryland Health Care System, we recognize National Former POW day and honor Maryland's former POWs each April, now numbering under 100 throughout the state.
In the hearts of our former POWs, we find unparalleled courage, loyalty, and allegiance to America. In their hearts, we find an unyielding faith in the democratic ideals of America. America's former POWs are among our nation's most revered heroes. They served with dignity and honor under the worst of human conditions — starvation, isolation, torture and the ever-present threat of death. Yet even during their darkest hour, they demonstrated remarkable personal courage and unwavering devotion to family and country. Their strength is a testament to the American character. In their hearts, we find the indomitable spirit that is America, and all we can offer from our own hearts is our gratitude and our commitment to honor their families and recognize their service and sacrifice.
Because of their sacrifice, and the selflessness and heroism of all who have served in our Armed Forces, millions now live in freedom, and America remains the greatest force for good on earth.
Not all Maryland's former POWs are enrolled in VA health care. They may be experiencing health care issues related to the deprivation they suffered as POWs but may not realize the connection. Clinicians at the VA Maryland Health Care System are trained to connect the dots, and we encourage all former POWs to enroll for VA health care, a benefit they earned and well deserve, by going to http://www.maryland.va.gov and clicking on the blue "Become a Patient" button.
Dennis H. Smith, director
VA Maryland Health Care SystemCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun